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Sunday Agenda -

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Sunday Agenda

Greg Hunt - Shadow Climate Change Minister

14 December 2008

Interview with Greg Hunt, Shadow Climate Change Minister

Sunday Agenda program, 14 December 2008

Helen Dalley: Climate Change is back on the agenda. Yesterday the European Union agreed to cut its
greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. In Poland at a climate change conference, negotiators
freed up millions of dollars to help poor countries adapt to severe droughts, floods and other
effects of global warming. And tomorrow the Rudd Government will launch its White Paper on climate
change, giving details of its emissions trading scheme; all this in the middle of a global
financial crisis. Here to talk about these issues is the Shadow Climate Change Minister, Greg Hunt,
who joins us from Melbourne. Greg Hunt, welcome to Sunday Agenda.

Greg Hunt: Good morning.

Helen Dalley: Well, the Rudd Government announced a $4.7 billion nation building plan on Friday to
stave off recession and create jobs. And Al Gore at the climate change conference in Poland said
that environmentally friendly policies could actually accomplish the same things. Do you agree?

Greg Hunt: Well, there is an opportunity in Australia to use water funding, which is the single
fastest infrastructure which could be deployed. You have farmers, you have posthole diggers, you
have trenchers who could deploy water infrastructure in the Murray Darling Basin within a matter of
months. There was not a single dollar of funding for water in the Murray Darling Basin. More than
that, there's $6 billion of funding which could be deployed, which was allocated by Malcolm
Turnbull when we were in government which has been frozen by Senator Wong and Prime Minister Rudd
which could save 600 billion litres of water over the coming years, every year. And what we would
call on is the Rudd Government to unfreeze the re-plumbing funding for the Murray Darling Basin. It
was extraordinary that it was excluded from the infrastructure package. It's the one infrastructure
which doesn't have multi-year lead times. It's the one infrastructure which could make real water
savings and is desperately needed. And it's an extraordinary oversight, and I'd say,
constructively, start the process of piping, channeling, lining of dams in the Murray Darling
Basin. The money's there, the plans are there. The small communities are ready to go. But it seems
that there's a philosophical opposition to helping farmers.

Helen Dalley: You say it's an oversight, I mean how could they miss this one? Surely it's not an
oversight, it was deliberately left out, but why?

Greg Hunt: Well, it's clearly a conscious decision and an obvious exclusion. Our view is this, that
the feedback from the major farming groups that have been dealing with the government is there's a
philosophical objection within Senator Wong's office, and a couple of other people, to helping the
farmers because they see that in some way as encouraging farmers to stay on the land when they'd
like to winnow down the amount of production. And secondly, it's about helping private individuals.
By comparison, we believe in a replumbing of regional Australia, a once in a century big bold
vision of re-plumbing regional Australia. It's about food security; it's about saving water for
farms; it's about saving water for the majestic Murray, Darling and Goulburn Rivers. And I today
call on the Rudd Government to unfreeze the $6 billion, which could save 600 billion litres of
water for re-plumbing rural Australia. Nothing less is acceptable.

Helen Dalley: Okay. Just back to the first question that I asked you. Do you agree with Al Gore
that environmentally-friendly policies can help stave off recession and create new jobs?

Greg Hunt: Well, I think what can happen is if you have practical measures, investment in solar,
investment in tidal, investment in geothermal; the clean new energy sources of the future, that, of
course, can be very positive. Sadly, what we've seen in Australia is an approach of a new tax and
no new practical measures, so they'll be taking money out of the economy. But what they won't be
doing by comparison is putting money into solar. We've seen that families on $51,000 each for mum
and dad. So you might have a teacher and a nurse, can't any longer access a solar panel rebate. So
pushing down practical measures, instead pushing up a new tax which will suck money out of the
economy. So there's a smart way and bad way to try and push environmental measures. Our approach is
practical things in terms of solar and tidal and geothermal and clean coal, things which will make
a real difference.

Helen Dalley: Okay. Well, we do have some details of what we think will be in the government's
scheme announced tomorrow. As The Australian newspaper has reported it will link our emissions
reductions to the hope of international deals, 5% cuts by 2020 as a minimum, with up to 25%
possible in the event of more comprehensive global deals. Is that what you understand it to be?

Greg Hunt: Well, I'll wait until tomorrow before making a definitive judgment. But what we have
argued is that Australia should make its commitments conditional upon, and in line with, the
aspirations of the rest of the world. I think that the result from Poland has been a terrible
disappointment for Australia because Australia itself has been the target of criticism from China
and South Africa, as Senator Wong made a promise two months ago, and then she broke her promise in
Poland. There was no reason for her to promise that Australia would release its targets in Poland,
and then to break them. It was a self-induced promise. What it's done is that it's made it less
likely that we get Developing World support. And if we don't have Developing World support then
Australia effectively gets out there and takes unilateral action under this government, which means
Australian jobs go overseas; Australian emissions go overseas. And in the case of many of our
products, global emissions can go up rather than down, if you produce zinc or aluminium in China
rather than in Australia. So their approach has been to drive our emissions offshore. But
effectively all that the globe knows is the total emissions, and if total global emissions go up,
because it's less efficient production in China, it's a disaster for Australian jobs, and bad for
the planet.

Helen Dalley: All right. Do you think they will match the European Union targets just announced of
20% reduction by 2020?

Greg Hunt: Who knows what this government will do. They will set out a whole series of
qualifications which will be all things to all people.

Helen Dalley: But in a sense, Mr Hunt, you are also arguing your side wants it now to be slowed
down. You've also just said you want Australia to go with the rest of the world. The European Union
has set 20%. Do you think we should go along with that?

Greg Hunt: Our position is very clear and there are two principles; one is practical action which
we can and should be taking now. In Australia that's the clean energy revolution that I was
mentioning earlier; and globally a plan to halve deforestation over the next five years. And in
terms of targets the principle is very simple, we have to both protect the planet and protect
Australia. And if production can be done more cleanly in Australia, then that's a good thing for
Australian jobs and a good thing for the planet.

Helen Dalley: Do you think the sooner a target is set the better?

Greg Hunt: Actually, we are not rushing to the setting of a target and there's a very clear reason.
We have a new administration coming in in the United States, that will change the game
significantly. We are not going to set a false deadline on putting down a target, but we are going
to set a very clear aspiration of practical constructive action. So we'll review what the
government puts out tomorrow. And we will respond on our timetable, not theirs. And I make no
apology for that because we want to produce real outcomes. But my call today is this, they have to
have a plan for bringing in the Developing World through halving deforestation. A huge opportunity
for preventing global deforestation, halving the 8 billion tons of emissions was lost at
Australia's own failure in Poland.

Helen Dalley: All right. Do you think that will be included in the White Paper?

Greg Hunt: The White Paper should and must have a plan for dealing with global deforestation. If it
does not, it will be a failure.

Helen Dalley: All right. If you believe in the IPCC report, why is your leader and your side of
politics pressing for more delays in starting an emissions trading scheme? Wouldn't that simply
allow climate change to do more damage before being properly tackled?

Greg Hunt: We're pressing for faster action on practical initiatives such as solar and geothermal,
clean coal, real things which will reduce emissions, but a practical timetable for an Emissions
Trading Scheme. At present 2010 looks as if it's going to be an enormous stretch. So Malcolm
Turnbull was the person who proposed an Emissions Trading Scheme. He had the sense of vision and
presence and task and responsibility. But what he himself says . . .

Helen Dalley: But Mr Hunt, the government has committed at the last campaign to go with 2010 and
they would be breaking a promise if they delayed it.

Greg Hunt: Well, actually their language has become an aspiration. So their language is moving
around. What we have said is we believe that there are deep and significant problems with a 2010
timetable because right at this moment that would represent a new tax on Australian small
businesses and Australian consumers of between eight and $14 billion, depending on the price range
which is set. Secondly, we think that you need time to actually implement the scheme. But remember
this, our goal on climate change, as opposed to the particular mechanism of an Emissions Trading
Scheme, is real action which will reduce emissions. So the collapse of BP's solar plant in
Australia since the government's come in is an indictment.

Helen Dalley: Shadow Minister, I just have to get onto a few more issues. There are also reports
about a big energy efficiency statement that will allow direct government grants for low income
households to audit their energy use and pay for energy-saving devices. Surely that's an idea you'd
support.

Greg Hunt: To be constructive, in principle that's something we've advocated. If it finally comes
along now, I would be pleased. The detail, of course, we'd look at, but energy efficiency in the
work which McKenzie and Company and others have done is a huge opportunity. Green carbon or the
saving of carbon through soil is an incredible opportunity and I think we need to look at
mechanisms to give the farmers the opportunity, not the obligation, but the opportunity to make
early savings through soil carbon and re-vegetation of semi-arid lands but protecting primary
agricultural land. So we will not only support, but we will drive and lead practical initiatives,
but we'll be very careful about a policy which just imposes a new $10 billion tax in the middle of
a global financial crisis. And I think that's the difference.

Helen Dalley: Okay. I want to move onto another issue, the subject of the Coalition itself. What do
you think of the calls by Shane Stone and Tony Abbott, among others, for the Nationals to quit the
Coalition if they don't fall into line?

Greg Hunt: I don't think that's a fair representation of what's actually been said, but my view is
very clear, I believe in the Coalition, I support the Coalition. It increases our breadth and it
increases the connections between urban and regional and rural Australia. Everybody has to work as
a team. That is a discipline which is clear and fundamental. Of course you have internal debates,
but once a decision is made we have to work as a team. I've got to say I have enormous respect for
Warren Truss, a strong, decent, reasonable man.

Helen Dalley: Just very briefly and finally, the polls were not kind to the Coalition or your
leader this week. Are you happy with Malcolm Turnbull's leadership?

Greg Hunt: I am. I believe that of all of the people in Australia at the moment the one who has a
better understanding of the global financial crisis and how to respond to it is Malcolm. He
recognised the flaws in the government's deposit guarantee. He saw the need for a change in the
wholesale deposit guarantee. And the government has responded and followed on both occasions. So
he's setting the clear financial agenda. And what he will be building is a vision about how we give
people the best shot at the life of their choice, a Liberal philosophy backed by very practical
policies. That's the task over the next year. The Turnbull vision is about giving people the best
shot at the life of their choice, a noble vision, and a sense of what Australia could be, a big
concept, rather than a little one.

Helen Dalley: All right. We will leave it there. Greg Hunt, we appreciate your time this morning.

Greg Hunt: It's a real pleasure.